Beatrice Alexander Behrman, or “Madame Alexander,” as she became known, grew up in the doll business. As the daughter of Maurice Alexander, a Russian immigrant who opened the first doll hospital in this country in 1895, she learned to appreciate the beauty of dolls from her early years. Her father’s teachings stayed with her into adulthood, and seeking a professional and artistic challenge, she founded the Alexander Doll Co., Inc., in the 1920’s. She went on to become the leading lady of the doll industry as she guided a company famous for the beauty and high quality of its dolls and their clothing.
Early Alexander dolls were cloth and composition. They had big hits in the 1930’s with their licensed Dionne Quintuplets and Sonja Henie composition dolls. During this period they also introduced characters from literature, including the Little Women series and McGuffey Ana. In the late ’40s, they turned to hard plastic and their Margaret and Maggie face dolls were the epitome of the well-dressed little girl.
From the very beginning, Madame Alexander focused on producing the highest quality, most beautiful doll clothing in the world. The same molds were used over and over again, with the costume and hairstyling creating the character of the doll.
The 8 inch Alexander-kins were introduced in 1953, and became the Alexander Doll Company’s most enduring product. Many were sold under the name Wendy or Wendy Ann. A year later a walking mechanism was introduced. From 1956 to 1965, the dolls were produced with jointed knees.
Alexander initiated the modern era of the fashion doll with the introduction of Cissy in 1955. In the company’s catalog for that year, Madame describes her as “A Child’s Dream Come True.” Elise, a doll with jointed ankles to enable her to wear low or high heels, was introduced in 1957, and in 1959, 10 inch Cissette joined her “big sisters” as Alexander’s newest fashionable lady. All of these dolls had extensive lines of extra clothing and accessories which could be purchased.
In addition to the high-heeled dolls, Alexander produced some of their most enduring child dolls in the 1950s. Babies Kathy and Little Genius were produced in several sizes, and little girl Kelly was dressed in beautiful, classic styles. The Little Women dolls that had always been big sellers for Alexander got an update with the introduction of pre-teen Lissy.
In the 1960s, Alexander introduced a number of new dolls with unique head molds, including Brenda Starr, a slim teen fashion doll to compete with Mattel’s Barbie, and Coco, a new 20 inch high fashion doll. While these dolls had a fairly short production run, the company also introduced some new faces which would become classics in their line. The 21 inch Jacqueline doll was one of these. Initially a representation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the mold was later used for the Portrait Series of lady dolls which were produced for decades. 14 inch Mary Ann and 12 inch Janie, both little girl dolls, became mainstays of the company’s line as well.
Also in the 1960s, the International Series using the 8” Alexander-kin molds were introduced. They became Alexander’s most popular line, and are still being produced today.
The 1970s and ’80s saw Alexander staying the course, with few innovations, producing the beloved babies and children, characters from classic literature, and ladies in Portrait gowns that had always done well for them.
Beatrice Alexander sold the company in 1988, and passed away two years later.
In the 1990s, the company went through a challenging period. They were the last of the major doll manufacturers still located in the United States, and had difficulty competing for collectors’ dollars. In 1995 the company was sold to an international banking group and production began to be moved overseas.
In the 1990s and 2000s, many of Alexander’s classic dolls were reintroduced, some as reproductions of the original styles, and others with a new modern look.
Beatrice Alexander was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2000.
The company has changed hands a few more times in recent years, and is currently owned by Kahn Lucas, a girls’ clothing manufacturer.
Today the Madame Alexander Doll Company specializes in baby dolls for children, including Huggums and Pussy Cat, first introduced in the 1960s, and a line of Lee Middleton babies; and collectible 8 inch and 10 inch dolls using the Alexander-kin and Cissette molds.